Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Walker Admin plays shell game on schools, roads. And sucks at it

Hey everybody! It's time to put the fun into the Funhouse for this post, because we're going to go along with our fair Governor, and play the old Shell Game!

Let's start with how we pay for our K-12 public schools, and bring in a guest contestant. State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout points out how the moves made 20 years ago to cut property taxes in Wisconsin actually funded the schools, and contrasts it with the shell game that exists today.
Many of you may remember Governor Tommy Thompson’s promise about state school aid back in the mid-1990s. Thompson promised that two-thirds of the school costs would be picked up by the state.

He then gained legislative support for over $1 billion new state dollars for schools. This action had a direct impact on property taxes. In tax year 1996, the school portion of property taxes dropped by 16% leading to a decline in overall property taxes of over 6%.

Today the state contributes almost half of the money for local schools – well short of the two-thirds funding from years ago. For taxes paid this year (2015 tax year), overall property taxes increased 2.3% to the highest level – $10.6 billion – in the history of our state…

With eight out of ten referenda passing, and state school aid below 2006 levels, I find it not surprising that people suspect state lawmakers are going to put the whole cost of schools on local tax payers.

Many Wisconsin residents look to Minnesota and see that the state contributes almost 70% of the total aid for schools. Property taxpayers in Minnesota only contribute one quarter of all school costs. Wisconsinites say if Minnesota can do it, why can’t Wisconsin[?]
Good question, Sen. Vinehout. It really comes down to how state officials prioritize paying for services, and if they desire to keep the quality of those services high. Instead of striking a balance of maintaining and increases in spending to avoid these shifts in taxes or fees, the WisGOPs in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan have tended to fail miserably in at least one of these goals when it comes to funding education, and often both.

Take a look at what is happening at the UW System. Gov Scott Walker is doing a lot of talking about the freeze he has instituted (and plans to continue) on in-state tuition for undergrads, but hasn’t added the state spending needed in order for the schools to have adequate revenues to continue their level of services. This is what the #FundTheFreeze backers are complaining about with that hashtag - having tuition frozen is great, but it needs to be backed up with enough funding to keep things operating well, like Tommy and state legislators agreed to do in 1996.

Instead, the UW System is receiving fewer state tax dollars in this fiscal year than they did for the 2012-2013 base year- the year the in-state tuition freeze began.

State aid, UW System
2012-2013 base $1.125 billion
2016-17 UW budget $1.024 billion

That’s a drop of over $100 million in 4 years BEFORE inflation. How can you expect to maintain quality when no one there's no money available to adequately pay faculty and staff, and the buildings can’t be fixed?

The Wisconsin Technical College System puts both of these methods (unfunded property tax cuts and lower state funding) together, Yes, by the raw numbers, the state is investing more into the Tech Colleges than it was 4 years ago. But take out a $406 million unfunded giveaway from 2014, done as a one-shot gimmick to drop property taxes instead of boost offerings at the 2-year institutions, and we’ve barely changed what is being put into Tech Colleges.

State aid, Tech College System
2012-2013 base doubled $216.5 million
2015-17 budget $1,038.6 million
2015-17 LESS unfunded tax break for both years $226.6 million

That 4.67% increase for tech college services is below the rate of inflation, and it includes the recent push for increases in "performance-based" funding.

(Quick sidelight- I find performance funding worrisome because of one obvious question. Who are the people and organizations deciding the measures that the funding is scored on? With the Fitzwalkerstanis, you can bet it’ll be the same WMC oligarchs and Koch-funded stink tankers that have been in charge of the strategies that have driven Wisconsin to dead last in the Midwest for job growth).

There's another way the Walker/WisGOP shell game works may well be coming to a community near yours, if it isn’t there already. Wisconsin Public Radio gave an overview of this latest tax shift last weekend, as part of an article on local wheel taxes.
Fifteen municipalities and counties are already tacking $10 to $20 onto vehicle registration to pay for local road maintenance, and now Milwaukee County, Marathon County, Wausau, Portage and Green Bay are considering following suit.

Dan Fedderly of the Wisconsin County Highway Association points to a decade of stagnant road funding from the state that's left locals with little choice.

"We just simply need to address what has been a pending dilemma for many years and has got to the point where it is in crisis mode for many local units of government across the state," Fedderly said.
You can bet this will be a common theme as local goverments debate their 2017 budgets over the next 3 months, and Dems in the state would be wise to connect the state’s defunding with the need to jack up registration fees locally. Unfortunately for Scotty and WisGOP, that added fee is paid out in the same bill as Wisconsinites’ regular $75 vehicle registration fee, so it’ll look like the state was the one who added the fee…which is essence, they did through their inability to fund the locals. So the voter anger will be right and wrong at the same time!

I can bet that Scott Walker will give some kind of spin job at his rally with Donald Trump tonight in the reddest part of Wisconsin- West Bend. He'll likely try to pull the same BS over on Fox News, and say that the state's tax burden is lower. But what Walker's not going to tell them is that he and his fellow WisGOP posers aren't cutting taxes on the average Wisconsinite, but is merely shifting the decision down to the local level, and likely pulling the double-whammy of higher local taxes AND a lower level of services.

Don't fall for the shell game, and give your friends the heads up if you see them being suckered by it.


  1. Senator Vinehout has done a great service to the public by bringing this observation out in the open. It was back in the days of Tommy Thompson that he had to promise 2/3 state funding for schools--because the Democrats had not yet compromised with the GOP on state aid. Thompson wanted less as part of the general austerity idea that GOPs and Bradleys pushed, but could net yet do it, if they wanted to get elected.

    This whole austerity and no tax increase scenario is what is fueling the Scott Walkers and Fitzgeralds to tear down our public schools, roads, etc.

    Schools get neglected with little state money, they can't function, so let the privateers move in to "solve" the problem. Same with road infrastructure. Water systems are clearly in this picture. But then, once privatized, taxpayers wind up paying more for these same basic services.

    Let's hope we can get back to larger state shared revenue with localities, an idea that Democrats had better heed, if they want to the Party and our once-great State to survive.

    1. You've basically got the scam down pat. Good reminder on how Dems in the Legislature helped to get the 2/3 funding in the 1990s.

      Good post. Thanks for reading